Commentary on God's Grandeur

Nature as God's book

The sonnet opens with a very definite statement, which gives it its title. The first three lines of the octave are written in confident mood, a statement of faith for Hopkins. The natural Creation is God's handiwork, and its greatness will inevitably give some sign of God's greatness as its Creator.

This thought is a very traditional one among Christians, and is reflected in a number of Bible passages, with all of which Hopkins would have been very familiar:

  • For example, Psalm 19:1-6 contains this verse:
‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his
handywork.' (Psalms 19:1 AV)

and then the passage continues with a wonderful image of the sun as a bridegroom.

‘For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power...' (Romans 1:20 AV). The subtext

The particular passage Hopkins probably had in mind was Psalm 104. This forms the subtext, an underlying text which helps give shape to the thought and imagery of a literary text. Not all texts have subtexts, but many do, as models, influences, and so on.

The Psalm is full of God's active involvement with his Creation. One verse reads:

‘O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches.' (Psalms 104:24 AV)

but the verse that contains the thought of the sestet is:

‘Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the earth.' (Psalms 104:30 AV) Problem and resolution

Problem and resolution

Unfortunately, in Hopkins' view, people have not been so wise. They have exploited the earth with their trade and toil; cut themselves off from it; and so lost both a sense of God and of Nature.

So, is there a solution? Hopkins' response is interesting:

  • not an appeal to us to reform our ways, as a modern writer might shape a response
  • rather a second statement of faith, more powerful than the problem. Nature is constantly renewed, just as day always follows night, renewing the light.

A secular thought might be: Nature renews itself, a self-contained process.

Not so, says Hopkins:

  • it is God through his Holy Spirit who does the renewing, with the same care and love as at the first Creation
  • however badly people treat the Creation, God is at work re-creating it. That is his hope.
Investigating God's Grandeur
  • Read Psalms 104:1-35
    • Do you see any other thoughts or images from the sonnet mirrored in the Psalm?
  • What is your attitude to the exploitation of the earth?
    • Do you share Hopkins' hope, or do you see the problem as being beyond solution?
  • Why does Hopkins see the resolution in God rather than in people?
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